POLITICS
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama In Allentown, Pa. To Discuss Jobs, Economy

Even as he trumpeted a slowdown in the nation's job losses Friday, President Barack Obama put finishing touches on a proposal he'll unveil next week to "jump-start" business hiring across America.

In a speech from Washington on Tuesday, Obama plans to send Congress a list of ideas he supports for a new jobs bill. He will endorse sending the biggest chunk of fresh money to cash-strapped state and local governments to stem their layoffs and on expanding a program that gives people cash incentives to fix up their homes with energy-saving materials, a senior administration official said.

Referencing a dip in unemployment last month, Obama said, "And this is good news. Just in time for the season of hope."

:But I do want to keep this in perspective," he added. "We still have a long way to go. I consider one job lost one job too many."

Obama will also endorse new tax breaks for small businesses that hire workers, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the package, and Obama's speech, are still being crafted. The president will support some new spending on construction of roads, bridges and other construction, but prefers to see that as a smaller portion of the package because administration economists calculate it doesn't give as quick a boost to job creation as the other measures, the official said.

"We need to grow jobs and get America back to work as quickly as we can," Obama said Friday at an event at Lehigh Carbon Community College. "On Tuesday, I'm going to speak in greater detail about the ideas I'll be sending to Congress to help jump-start private sector hiring and get Americans back to work."

One college student suggested Obama legalize drugs, gambling prostitution to help stimulate the economy. The president rejected the idea.

Job losses in the U.S. have been the worst since the 1930s, but new statistics out Friday showed a relatively moderate shedding of 11,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate dipped from 10.2 percent in October to 10 percent in November.

The Labor Department report showed November job losses were at the smallest monthly number since the recession began.

"As we come to the end of this very tough year, I want to do something I haven't had a chance to do that often during my first year in office and that is to share some modestly encouraging news on our economy," Obama said before detailing the report.

Channeling a campaign style and an upbeat tone, Obama called it "good news just in time for the season of hope" and said it is a sign his plans are starting to improve a battered economy.

But, even with the best jobs report the country has had since 2007, Obama said the situation is still dire and in need of urgent attention. Unemployment is expected to remain high for months.

"I still consider one job lost one job too many," he said. "Good trends don't pay the rent."

Making his pitch -- and Americans' pain -- personal, Obama said his own family had members who were looking for work. The flourish was not included in his prepared remarks.

While the economic crisis began under Obama's predecessor, it now falls to the first-year president to right a sliding economy that has invited political criticism as unemployment stays high. Obama pointed to 700,000 jobs lost each month before he took office in January.

There is growing concern in the White House that unemployment problems could dwarf all others. Obama hosted a jobs summit at the White House Thursday, scheduled the trip to Pennsylvania for Friday and set the jobs-bill speech for Tuesday.

At Allentown Metal Works, the president adopted a campaign tone, casually chatting with the kind of working-class voters who will be crucial to his plan making its way to Congress and, more daunting, Democrats' chances in the 2010 midterm elections and his own in 2012. Obama has seen his approval rating slide as his promises of change have slammed into governing reality.

"How you doing?" Obama shouted to workers below a platform where he stood. "Merry Christmas," he shouted at others. The plant employs about 70 people, and the White House says it's expanding.

The president's motorcade raced past protesters. "Go home," one group chanted. The group also hoisted signs reading "Fail!" and "Republicans work so you don't have to."

In a nod to growing anxiety about federal deficits, Obama is also stressing a need not to increase federal spending too much. During Thursday's jobs discussion with CEOs and academics at the White House, he said it is primarily up to the private sector to create large numbers of new jobs, because "we also, though, have to face the fact that our resources are limited."

The full remarks as prepared for delivery:

It is good to be back in the Lehigh Valley. It's been about a year and a half since I last visited Allentown and Bethlehem when I was running for this office. And while it was a pleasure to be here as a candidate, it is an honor to be here as your President.

Pennsylvania, you helped put me in office. But even on the most trying days, I want you to know that I'm grateful - grateful for the opportunity to serve you in these challenging times for America; and grateful for this chance to get out of Washington and spend the day in the Lehigh Valley, talking with folks about this very tough economy.

I've just come from Allentown Metal Works, where I had a chance to visit with workers there. They were working hard - and not just to forge the heavy machinery that makes this country run. Like so many others across America, they've been doing the best they can to stay afloat in a brutal recession that has hit folks like them hardest of all.

In the two years since this recession began, too many members of our American family have felt the gut punch of a pink slip. Eight million Americans have lost their jobs. Every one of us knows someone who has been swept up by this storm: neighbors who have lost their homes or their health care; friends who have used up their savings and put off their retirement; relatives who have downscaled their dreams - or dropped them entirely.

I've heard these stories in every corner of America, and I see them in the letters I read each night.

So as we come to the end of this very tough year, I want to do something I haven't had a chance to do often during my first year in office; and that is to share some encouraging news on our economy.

Today, the Labor Department released its monthly employment survey and reported that the nation lost 11,000 jobs in November - about 115,000 fewer than was forecast. The unemployment rate ticked down, instead of up. And the report also found that we lost about 160,000 fewer jobs over the last two months than we had previously thought. It's the best jobs report we've seen since 2007.

This is good news, just in time for the season of hope. But I want to keep this in perspective. We still have a long way to go. I still consider one job lost one job too many. And as I said yesterday at a jobs conference in Washington, good trends don't pay the rent. We need to grow jobs and get America back to work as quickly as we can.

The journey from here will not be without setbacks or struggle. There will be more bumps in the road. But the direction is clear. When you think about how this year began, today's report is a welcome sign that there are better days ahead.

At the beginning of the year, we were losing more than 700,000 jobs - a number roughly half the size of Philadelphia - each month. Our financial system was on the verge of collapse. Economists were warning of a second Great Depression.

So from the moment I was sworn into office, I began taking a number of difficult steps to end this economic crisis. I didn't take them because they were popular or gratifying - they weren't. You can be sure that when I was running for this office, things like saving the banks and rescuing auto companies were not on my to-do list. They weren't even on my want-to-do list. But I did them because they were necessary to save our country from an even greater catastrophe.

We also took steps to unlock our frozen credit markets so the average American could get the loan he or she needs to buy a home or a car; to go to college or start a small business. We enacted measures to stem the crisis in our housing market, helping responsible homeowners stay in their homes and curb the decline in home values overall. We cut taxes for 95 percent of hardworking families - just like I promised you we would when I ran for President. And we passed the Recovery Act, which created or saved up to 1.6 million jobs, stopped our freefall, and lifted our economy to the point where it's growing for the first time in more than a year.

Today's report is another hopeful sign that these steps have helped turn the tide. But we have a lot more work to do before we can celebrate.

You see, even though our economy is growing again, many companies are still worried about hiring. Some are still trying to get out of the red brought on by this past year. Others have figured out how to squeeze more productivity out of the workers they have - instead of hiring new ones.

This is what usually happens with recessions. We know it takes time for job growth to catch up with economic growth. But Americans who have been desperately looking for work for months - maybe even longer - can't wait for that. And we won't. We need to do every responsible thing we can, right now, to get our businesses hiring again so that our friends and neighbors can go back to work.

Yesterday, at the White House, we had a forum on jobs and growth, with leaders from every sector of our economy and every political and economic viewpoint - from the CEO of Google to small business owners who know our economic reality as well as anyone. I wanted to ask them what they needed to see to begin hiring again. We had frank discussions about a variety of ideas that helped refine our thinking.

We talked about investments in clean energy to not only create jobs but make America a global leader in renewable energy technology. We talked about incentives for homeowners for the materials and labor they need to make their homes more energy efficient; and a smart electricity grid that saves you money and moves our economy forward. We talked about additional ways to lift small businesses, which are both the great generator of jobs and the truest reflection of our values. We talked about additional investments in America's roads, bridges, railways and ports, rebuilding the critical infrastructure of our economy.

On Tuesday, I'm going to speak in greater detail about the ideas I'll be sending to Congress to help jumpstart private sector hiring and get Americans back to work.

But here's the thing, Allentown. We have to do more than manage our way through this crisis. Because long before this recession hit, many of our communities had been struggling for a long time. Plants were closing. Jobs were leaving. For too many families and communities, particularly in the manufacturing sector, the recession was not a new challenge. It is a permanent one.

So in addition to dealing with the immediate crisis we face today, we also have to face up to the challenges necessary to strengthen our economy for the long haul.

That's why I've taken on our broken health insurance system, so that families and businesses won't have to cope with double-digit premium increases year-after-year.

That's why my Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is taking on our education system, so that our kids can compete in the economy of the 21st century, and that's why we are working to upgrade America's most under-appreciated asset - community colleges just like this one.

That's why we're doing everything we can to spur new industries, like clean energy, to create good, new jobs that won't be sent off-shore.

And that's why, when the current emergency passes, I'm committed to bringing down the deficits that loom as a threat to our future economic growth.

Here's why we have to do all this: because for decades, Washington avoided doing what was right in favor of doing what was easy. And the middle class took a beating for it. Well, I didn't run for President to sweep our messes under the rug with the next election in mind. I ran for President to solve our problems - once and for all - with the next generation in mind.

I know times are tough - but I promise you I won't rest until they get better. I know you may not agree with every decision I make - but I promise I will always tell you the truth about why I make them. And I know that we can come together to forge a brighter future so that places like Allentown, and Bethlehem, and the Lehigh Valley don't just survive, but thrive. That's why we're here. That's what we're fighting for. And as long as I have the privilege of being your President, I will always be right there, with you, in the thick of that fight.

Thank you. And now I'd like to take your questions and hear from all of you.

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